tv Dateline NBC NBC May 24, 2010 3:05am-4:00am EDT
>> reporter: recalling in an exclusive interview one of the first foreign crises of his young presidency. how tough a call was that to authorize the use of deadly force knowing one missed shot would cost the life of that cap pain. from the mock execution. >> the leader started clicking his gun. >> reporter: to the amazing rescue. all hell broke loose. >> then the shots. >> reporter: "rescue on the high seas." >> reporter: good evening, everyone. welcome to "dateline." i'm matt lauer. it was easter sunday one year ago that an american cargo ship captain, richard phillips, held hostage by somali pirates was freed in a dramatic rescue by navy sharp shooters. now, at the time phillips was portrayed as a hero willing to trade his life to save the lives of his crew members. the reality behind the news reports wasn't quite so simple. and tonight captain phillips tells the harrowing true story of those four grueling days on a
tiny lifeboat. a tale of terror, despair, and ultimately quiet courage. it was high drama on the high seas. an american ship captain held hostage. desperate pirates have his life in their hands. a situation that could only end badly. until the navy s.e.a.l.s. arrive. tonight in a "dateline." exclusive. >> i was afraid for the entire time. >> reporter: rarely seen navy footage of the standoff. >> shots fired! >> reporter: the hour by hour details of the captain's battle of wits with somali pirates. >> i told them, you're never going to make it out of here. they're never going to pay your ransom. we're all going to die on this boat. >> reporter: you'll hear from the president himself about decisions that brought captain phillips home alive.
>> immediately we went to work to coordinate all u.s. power to figure out how we could free him. >> reporter: to many captain richard phillips is a national hero. to some he's a captain who recklessly sailed into harm's way. i sat down with him. someone described your style in terms of being a captain is that you're a tough son of a bitch. >> i'm tough. i don't think of a son of a bitch. i'm tough. >> reporter: tough. but hwhen he can be, a home bod. he and his wife andrea live about as far from the dangers of piracy as you can get. in the countryside of northern vermont. >> i've always wanted to live near the mountains. i'm a snow border, skier. >> reporter: you like the snow, don't you? >> i love the snow, yeah. ♪ sailing takes me away >> reporter: rich and andrea met
the boston in the early 1980s, dated five years and married in 1988. they have a daughter mariah and a son dan who used to complain to his father about his long absences. >> he said to me, oh, i don't have a sdad. he's always at sea. >> reporter: as a merchant sea captain he's be home three months then gone three. you and andrea would find ways to connect. the moon is something you saw to keep you guys together. >> i'd say i'm under the same moon you guys are. before they'd go to bed they'd look at the moon, say good night to dad. >> reporter: a half-moon hung in the sky when rich phillips' voyage into history began. on april 1st, 2009. he was commanding the "maersk alabama," a 508-foot long vessel. along the route captain phillips brought his unarmed ship and its
20-member crew into the waters off the coast of somalia. the dangers there are well known. gangs of somali pirates, in large mother ships, launch small attack boats hundreds of miles from land. armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, the pirates board ships, take crew members and ships hostage, and, at times, kill their captains. and the pirates get away with millions of dollars in ransom. prior to this trip you had heard the news reports. you had read the headlines. that there was some real pirate activity along the route you were going to be traveling. >> i'd been in that area in the world really since early 2005. i was always highly concerned with it. as i told my crew, it was never a matter of if. it was a matter of when. >> reporter: in fact, in the days leading up to the journey, maritime security consultants had sent the harr"maersk alabam
numerous e-mails warning of pirate captivity. i read you and the captain watched the drill and it didn't go well at all. you were not at all happy. >> i've never been happy with any drill. we always could improve. >> reporter: after the drill he says he was confident the crew knew what to do. lock down all facilities. use the fire hoses and grab flares to aim at the pirates. and go to a safe room. the first six days of the "maersk alabama's" journey were uneventful. then on april 7th danger appeared on the horizon. pirate boats were spotted in the distance. chief mate shane murphy was captain phillips' second in command. >> i was standing by a hatch with a kitchen knife in my hand watching the boat coming in within a mile. >> reporter: on the bridge, captain phillips scrambled. and ordered the speed increased. it was his first encounter with
pirates in his 19 years commanding a ship. but he had a few novel ideas. now they're getting closer and closer. you started to play, for lack of a better term, games on the radio. >> i started to simulate a conversation between me and a coalition warship. one of the country's navy ships there to fight piracy. >> reporter: assuming the pirates would be monitoring any radio transmissions coming from your ship, and they would hear, wait a second, he's talking to the military, this is not a good situation for us. >> right. >> reporter: then after an hour and 45 minutes of cat and mouse maneuvers, the last of the small pirate boats turned away. when this thing finally ends, how did you feel about your lot in life at that moment? >> i think we all felt successful that our procedures did work. there was a sense we seemed to be on the right page. there was a sense that we were successful. >> reporter: but within hours, all that would change.
the indian ocean off the coast of somalia. it was 3:30 a.m. on wednesday, april 8th. on the "maersk alabama," captain rich phillips woke to disturbing news. >> i got a call from my second mate. we could see a small boat behind through the binoculars. and then i heard it over the radio, what they said. somali pirate, somali pirate, coming to get you, coming to get you. >> reporter: let me stop you there. that seems like the last thing a somali pirate would say on the radio. here i am, a somali pirate and i'm coming to get you. you would think they would want the element of surprise. >> you would think. >> reporter: did you change course at all? >> we changed course and sped up to 120 revs and kept that speed until i woke up at 6:15 in the morning. >> reporter: when you say you woke up at 6:15 in the morning, what might surprise some people is here now you've had your second encounter with somali
pirates, and you're able to go back to bed. i think i would have been standing on the bridge looking in every direction, unable to sleep. how did you manage to go back to sleep? >> i do have a crew. i stayed on the bridge for, i will say 45 to 50 minutes. there was nothing out there, nothing on the radar. >> reporter: you're thinking second situation perhaps averted. >> maybe, or a fishing boat wanting you to stay away from their gear. >> reporter: fishing boat or not, it was a nagging reminder of the captain and crew's worst fear, being taken hostage by pirates and being hauled off to somalia. chief mate, shane murphy. >> i was on a hair trigger all the time, waiting for something to happen. >> reporter: something did. it was around 6:45 a.m., just after sunrise. captain phillips had returned to the bridge. the crew spotted a small boat behind them. >> i would say he's going 20, 21 knots, he's closing fairly fast. >> reporter: you're in a race now. because you're in a huge cargo ship, and you're trying to outrun a speedboat, basically. >> basically, yep.
>> reporter: the captain ordered the general alarm. >> i knew it was a piracy situation. i was nervous, but i knew the procedures. >> reporter: here you've got this speedboat closing on you. you've got no guns on board. >> no weapons. >> reporter: you've got flares. you've got fire hoess. but they're getting closer and closer. from what i understand, all of a sudden, here comes automatic weapons fire. >> they were a half mile and they start firing. >> reporter: in those chaotic moments just after 7:00 a.m., most of the 20-member crew took cover, according to plan. many eventually ended up in a safe room, hidden in the bowels of the ship. captain phillips, though, stayed on the bridge with two other crew members who helped to stand watch. this is an actual photo taken as the pirates approached. and then the pirate skiff slid up alongside the ship. are they firing at the ship?
do you think they are firing warning shots? did you hear anything hit the ship? >> oh, yeah. you heard the whap of ricochets. >> reporter: the pirates had a white ladder they tilted up to climb the 20 feet from their boat to an opening on the ship. how long did it take them to get up that ladder? >> they were very quick. he was shooting up at me with an ak-47. i'm going to say, six seconds, seven seconds for him to get up and on the deck. >> reporter: it was 7:15 a.m., wednesday. the "maersk alabama" had been boarded by pirates. these are the photos taken later by a crew member. the chief mate, by then, locked in his office down below, couldn't believe it. >> i was gearing myself up for a fistfight-type situation. i was, you know, screaming and punching the walls and things. >> reporter: the captain didn't want to give up without a fight, either. up on the bridge, he thought he had time before he had to back off and hide himself. >> our next procedure is for us to back off the bridge and surrender the bridge, but i didn't see a reason at that time.
>> reporter: let me give you a reason to surrender the bridge. they've got ak-47s and you've got nothing but a flare gun. a lot of people would have said, that's a pretty good time to surrender. >> yeah, but you can't surrender. i'm still trying to keep some semblance of control. unbeknownst to me, one did get by and out of the corner of my eye, i looked and there was the pirate with an ak-47. >> reporter: any idea why he didn't just shoot you? >> he basically shot at me twice and then came in and just said, relax, relax. no problem, no problem. just business. just business. relax. relax, captain. >> reporter: the pirates wanted to take the ship and its crew to somalia and hold it there until the ship's owners paid millions in ransom. but the pirates didn't know those plans were already filed. the ship was going nowhere. a secret plan had gone into effect. the captain knew that the chief
engineer locked away in the engine room below, had taken control of the ship's power and steering. only he could move the ship. >> he disabled the system in a way that only he knew how to bring it back. he made himself a very important key in the whole situation. >> reporter: it was a small victory. by maintaining control of everything but the bridge, the ship's crew had thwarted the pirates' plan to move the ship and 20 hostages to the somali coast -- at least for the time being. but for captain phillips, a life and death struggle was about to begin. coming up, tension builds to the breaking point. >> they threatened to shoot my crew and myself if we didn't bring the crew up in two minutes. >> reporter: what can the captain do now to protect his crew? >> i'm walking around being as loud as i can, making loud noise with my feet. you want to go down to d deck? you want to go to the mess deck? i was able to speak like that, i was able to walk a little slow. but heavy. >> reporter: were
it was mid-morning wednesday, april 8th. blazing sun, stifling humidity. a paralyzing fear hung over the indian ocean. >> i was afraid for the entire time. >> reporter: on board the "maersk alabama," four somali pirates held captain richard phillips. and by this time, three other crew members at gunpoint on the bridge. fifteen crew members were in a safe room in the bowels of the ship. the chief engineer controlled the ship's movements from the engine room and cut the power on board. yet, the pirates were pleased at
first. this ship was flying the stars and stripes. >> -- >> reporter: and when they did find out it was an american flagship, they thought they hit the jackpot. >> they started high-fiving each other once they found out it was an american ship. >> reporter: but the captain wasn't going to let his american ship go without a struggle. he kept a hand held radio by his side. when the pirates weren't looking, he used it to communicate with crew members who were hiding. and he took a few steps to foil the pirates himself, even issuing false orders. you're messing with them now. changing the radar so they can't tell where the mothership is, messing with the radio so they can't contact the mothership. you're not bringing the crew into the open. >> i'm asking for the crew, sometimes saying send two guys. send three guys. they're getting upset. the crew has to come to the bridge immediately. >> reporter: the crew knew to ignore his orders. he would have used a preset password if the commands were real, so the crew stayed hidden and as time passed, the danger and tension ratcheted up. the pirates set a deadline.
alongside the captain up on the bridge, crew members colin wright, cliff lacone and another, rayza, were also being held hostage. the pirates threatened to shoot them if the crew members in hiding didn't start to show up. >> i was afraid for the lives of the crew members. they threatened to shoot the crew and myself if i didn't bring the crew up in two minutes. i was able to pass to my crew over the radio, if you don't hear from us in two minutes, you'll get no quarter. you guys are on your own. there is no giving up. >> reporter: at this point chief mate shane murphy was hiding, perched on a crane. he could hear the desperation in the pirates' voices and feared the worst. >> god, i'm going to hear the shot ring out and maybe colin or atm's going to be shot to death. >> reporter: a secret on-board alert system has already sent a distress call to the u.s. military. navy planes were dispatched for reconnaissance. warships were rerouted and
directed to the scene. at the white house, barack obama was informed of the life or death situation. one of the first foreign crises of his young presidency. mr. president, when you heard an american captain was being held, what was the first thing that went through your mind? >> the first thing i thought about was his family. and i tried to put myself in his family's shoes, thinking about how frightening that would be. >> reporter: for the captain's wife, andrea, it was frightening. when she heard the news from a neighbor, her friends told her not to worry. >> you know, andrea, the m.o. they just want money. they hijack a ship. they just want money. nobody's going to get hurt. >> reporter: she had no idea an ak-47 was pointed at her husband's head. for captain phillips, the tension and the heat made it nearly unbearable, but the deadline to kill a crew member passed without shots fired. and the pirates were beside themselves trying to find the other crew members.
it's like a ghost ship at this point. >> that's exactly right. so they started to get a little hinky. where is the crew? why doesn't anything work on this ship? >> reporter: frustrated, a pirate the captain called the leader left the gunmen and hostages on the bridge and took the captain to look for the crew members who were hiding. >> he was unarmed the whole time. >> reporter: you go with an unarmed pirate below deck. any thoughts to clock him? >> it would have been no problem at all. i could have done just that. >> reporter: why didn't you? >> i have men up on the bridge and they still have the ship. it doesn't solve my problem. >> reporter: the power cut off, the captain escorted the leader through the darkened passageways, up ladders, into offices. >> i'm walking around being as loud as i can, making loud noise with my feet. oh, you want to go to d-deck? oh, you want to go to the mess deck? so i was able to speak like that, was able to walk a little slow, but heavy. >> reporter: were there any close calls during that tour of
the ship trying to find those crew members? >> i wasn't sure where everybody was. >> reporter: little did he know he came within feet of his chief mate at least three times. >> i'd hear his loud voice, okay, open this door up. there's nobody in here. it would give me just enough chance to duck for cover. >> reporter: shane murphy took a page from the captain's playbook the day before. he radioed to a phantom navy warship, and the pirates heard him. >> i was saying, mayday, this is u.s. flag "maersk alabama," american crew, we have been taken hostage by somali pirates. >> reporter: you write in the book that when that happened, it looked like the lead pirate's head was going to explode. >> yeah. he couldn't understand it. who is that? where is he? i don't know. i'm here with you. >> reporter: the pirate wanted to search the ship again. this time it was the crew member named atm who took him. before he left, the captain whispered instructions. >> atm was coming toward me. i said, take him to the boys. he doesn't have a weapon. hoping that he would do that.
and he was smart enough and did a very imaginative and brave thing and took him down there and overpowered him. >> reporter: incredibly with the chief engineer brandishing a knife in the darkness, the pirate leader was subdued, found and dragged into the safe room with the hiding crew members. this photo of the leader was taken by a crew member soon after the capture. the tables were turned. it seemed like a major victory for the crew of the "maersk alabama." the remaining pirates were now furious. >> they started getting panicky. you could tell the way they were screaming for their friend. >> reporter: the crew had a bargaining chip, and the stage was set for a hostage trade for captain phillips. a trade that would go horribly wrong. coming up, the captain volunteers for a hostage exchange but the pirates renege. >> now he's one guy with four pirates on a lifeboat. >> reporter: with guns pointed at his head.
now the transfer is going to be made. now your crew brings the leader. >> bringing him out on deck, yeah. >> reporter: he gets on the lifeboat, and you're supposed to get off. it's like, you know, okay -- >> i'm actually driving the lifeboat because they don't know how to drive. >> reporter: right. then what happened? >> then he came into the boat. then he wanted to learn how to run the boat. so i basically gave him little instructions. he started steering off the ship. i said, okay, we going back? nope. that's when i learned, never trust a pirate. >> reporter: when "rescue on the high seas" continues. gecko: uh yeah...it's interesting.... certainly not the worst ringtone i've ever heard... ♪ ringtone lyrics: a-ringedy- ding-ding-dingy-dong, ringedy-dong-ding-ding... ♪ gecko (to himself): yeah, that might be the worst. anncr: geico. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.
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"maersk alabama" was off the coast of somalia. by late afternoon april 8, 2009, nearly ten hours had gone by since the ship was boarded by somali pirates. captain rich phillips and by that time two crew members were being held at gunpoint. the other 17 crew members were locked in a safe room down below. but a crew member named atm, along with the chief engineer, had turned the tables. they had seized the pirate leader and set the stage for a trade. so now you've got the leader of the pirates under your control. >> under the crew's control, not mine. >> reporter: but the other three pirates still have the bridge basically, and they're armed. >> yep.
>> reporter: on the bridge, though, the three remaining pirates were obviously getting frantic. >> i'm assuming they also believed that the navy was very close and was going to be there shortly. >> reporter: after negotiations via radio between the remaining three pirates and the crew members holding their leader, there was a deal. the pirates would get the leader back if they got off the ship. they'd also get $30,000 that captain phillips kept in the ship's safe. >> they are winning in their eyes because they were able to attack a ship. they were able to get off the ship with some money. and once they got off the ship, i told them we'd exchange hostages, but not while they're on the ship. >> reporter: the pirate skiff had drifted off and capsized. eventually the "maersk alabama's" orange lifeboat was lowered by crew members who came out of hiding. then the captain and the three free pirates transferred to it. the pirate leader was then freed and got into the lifeboat.
in exchange, the captain was supposed to be freed. yet back up on the "maersk alabama" with his crew's assistance. now the transfer will be made. your crew brings the leader. >> brings him out on deck, yep. >> reporter: he gets on the lifeboat, and you're supposed to get off. it's like, you know, okay. >> i'm actually driving the lifeboat because they don't know how to drive. >> reporter: right. then what happened? >> then he came into the boat and he wanted to learn how to run the boat. so i basically gave him little instructions. and then he started steering off the ship. and then i said, okay, we going back? he said, no. that's when i learned, never trust a pirate. >> reporter: for captain phillips, it had been a disastrous miscalculation. ak-47s still aimed at his head, there was nothing he could do. he was out on a lifeboat, alone, with four somali pirates. these are actual images recorded later of the orange craft racing toward the somali coast.
what was your feeling at that time? >> three-quarters of my problems were solved -- my crew, my ship and my cargo were safe and free. the ship was under way. i just had to worry about myself. i thought of myself as i'm out here in the middle of the indian ocean with four pirates. i'm in a tough place, but i still felt that i could outwit them or get away from them. >> reporter: really? >> i really felt i could get away from them. >> reporter: you were confident you would be okay at that point? >> i won't say okay. i was confident i could get away. >> reporter: but few others were. within an hour, news that her husband was being held hostage alone with the pirates had reached andrea in vermont where she'd already been besieged by reporters. >> with the media sitting on my living room couch at this point i was like, okay, everybody go. because it dramatically changed my mood. because now he's one guy with four pirates on a lifeboat. >> reporter: meanwhile, the pirates watched in amazement as
the "maersk alabama" came back to life. >> engines started. >> reporter: so they realized they'd been duped in terms of everything that went on, on the ship. >> yep. on top of that, they saw the "maersk alabama" was coming fairly close to us. >> reporter: even with you onboard the lifeboat? >> even with me on board the lifeboat. i said, of course he'll run me over. he wants my job. they got scared and they put me back on to steer the boat. >> reporter: soon, though, his humor and optimism wore down. >> i expected to get out pretty quickly. they never gave me a chance. >> reporter: 8,000 miles away in washington, d.c., a decision had already been made at the highest level of government. >> immediately, we went to work to try to coordinate all u.s. power to figure out how we can free him. >> reporter: according to former navy rear admiral terry mcknight, there was no debate which military asset was best for the job. >> the navy s.e.a.l.s. are a
group trained in hostage rescue. it's determined since it's a maritime event, we need to send a s.e.a.l. team out there to help and rescue this hostage. >> reporter: back in the united states, a giant c-17 cargo jet was prepared to carry the navy's elite commandos to the indian ocean. because for captain phillips, time was running out. coming up, desperate hours stretch into unbearable days and the pirates' mood turns menacing. >> they were screaming, pacing up and down, taking turns hitting me. >> reporter: when "dateline" continues. effectively removes hair. its new formula has essential oils and a delicate rose scent, leaving your skin touchably smooth and moisturized. veet. what beauty feels like. and try our spray-on format, that conveniently and effectively removes hair with a rose scent more women agree smells better than nair lotion.
on a moonlit night as the "maersk alabama" circled nearby, captain richard phillips was being held hostage in an enclosed lifeboat by four somali pirates. it was after midnight thursday april 9th, 18 hours since the pirates first attacked his ship. you said, you know, i was sure i was going to die on that boat. >> well, there's always hope. i was their adversary. even if they did kill me, i don't care. they weren't going to bend me to their ways. >> reporter: he didn't see a way out. suddenly at 2:00 a.m., a bright light. >> it lit up the lifeboat like it was brighter than daylight. >> reporter: it was the guided missile destroyer, "the uss
bainbridge." >> it was good to see. it laid my thought that nobody knows i'm here -- >> reporter: the cavalry's here. >> the cavalry came in. >> reporter: the bainbridge crew negotiated with the pirates to send small navy boats to get proof that the captain was alive and to drop off food. >> the bainbridge had the frequency for our radios so they were able to communicate. the next day they were able to drop another radio, batteries, water and some food -- pop-tarts. they dropped it in the water and the pirates got it. >> reporter: pop-tarts? >> pop-tarts, yep. >> reporter: but captain phillips was in no mood to eat. the unrelenting sun and humidity nearly smothered him in the enclosed craft. he estimated the temperature at more than 110 degrees. at this point, more than 30 hours had gone by since the pirates first attacked the "maersk alabama." shane murphy was now its acting captain and was reluctant to leave the scene. >> we didn't have our full crew
and we wanted to get captain phillips back. >> reporter: but the navy wanted his ship to leave immediately. more pirate ships had been spotted nearby. the "maersk alabama" left the scene and its captain thursday evening. shane murphy sent andrea phillips an e-mail saying the crew owed the captain their lives. the nearly full moon shone that night and like it had so many times in her life, it gave andrea phillips comfort a long way away from her husband. ♪ moonlight in vermont >> it gave me something to stay connected to. i was just, i'm with you. i'm thinking of you. i'm not going to let you go. >> reporter: back on the indian ocean, it was the early hours of good friday, april 10th. nearly two days had gone by since the "maersk alabama" had been attacked and the captain was still hostage in the lifeboat. the conditions have got to
deteriorate pretty rapidly. there's not a lot in the way of food. >> nope. >> reporter: not a lot in the way of water. there are no sanitary facilities. and you decide at some point you've got to figure a way off the lifeboat. you couldn't be on that lifeboat too much longer. >> i was saying to myself, i'm a wimp. what am i doing? i'm still here. it wasn't until early friday morning that the chance showed itself. >> reporter: he saw that one of the pirates was relieving himself off the side while the others were sleeping. you've got two sleeping in one part of the lifeboat, another guy dozing off in the tower, and this guy's put his gun down. >> i said, this is it. i pushed him. had to push him twice. he went screaming into the water which woke the other pirates and for a second i was frozen with that weapon there. but i didn't know how to use it. i put it away, and i dove in. >> reporter: you dive in the water. what's going through your mind? >> i was going to take two breaths, hold it as long as i could. hopefully they wouldn't be able to see me because it was
nighttime, albeit the full moon or near full moon was out there. >> reporter: he swam as fast as he could toward the "bainbridge," about a half a mile away. but the pirates gunned the engine and chased after him, brandishing automatic weapons. >> i thought if i was able to separate myself from the lifeboat, a good outcome would happen. >> reporter: it wasn't to be. the "bainbridge" crew couldn't tell what happened, and the pirates began to shoot. >> i think they fired two shots into the water, not a foot from my head. and that's when i made the decision, okay, okay, you got me. you got me. >> reporter: it's fair to say that moment the mood on that lifeboat changed dramatically, didn't it? >> first of all, they were upset that i would even think about trying to get away. they were incensed, screaming, pacing up and down the center aisle, taking turns hitting me, smacking me. hitting me with the butt -- >> reporter: hitting you their
fists, the guns? >> hitting me with their fists, the gun. they tied me up very, very tight to the point that i lost complete feeling in my hands. >> reporter: in the dive, he had lost his glasses, too. from that point on, he says, he was treated like a caged animal in the cramped confines of the lifeboat. the pirates even staged mock executions. >> the leader just started clicking his gun and then just started incantations. that's when i told him, what's he going to do, kill me? they were trying to raise my hands up in this manner and my feet outstretched in the other way. the guy was behind my head with the gun. >> reporter: all day friday, saturday and into sunday, the lifeboat raced toward the somali coast. this is rarely seen u.s. navy footage of the attempts to slow the lifeboat down using fire hoses and helicopter downdrafts. on saturday, the pirates fired at the "bainbridge." >> shots fired, shots fired!
>> reporter: but the navy didn't return fire. not yet. inside, a gun pointed at his head, captain phillips endured more abuse, humiliation and mind games. fearing the worst, he had imaginary conversations as his thoughts turned to family and friends at home and beyond. >> i was apologizing to andrea for that 2:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. phone call that her husband was dead. then started thinking about people i'd see. my father who's dead, a neighbor who died just before i left. >> reporter: he couldn't know it then, but a squad of navy s.e.a.l.s. who'd flown all the way from the united states had already parachuted into the dark ocean. former rear admiral terry mcknight. >> as soon as they come out of the plane, they're ready to go. >> reporter: soon they'd be ready to take action. president obama gave permission to use deadly force, if the captain's life was in imminent danger. how tough a call was that to
authorize the use of deadly force, knowing that one missed shot would cost the life of that captain? >> one of the things you discover as commander in chief is that our military is so well trained that with confidence i can give them some clear instructions with some clear parameters and have confidence that they will exercise whatever discretion they need effectively. >> reporter: commander frank castallano of the "bainbridge" will be the one to exercise the discretion. >> he deems that his crew or anybody else is in danger, he has the right to defend his crew and those he's protecting. coming up, the sharpshooters get their orders. >> take them out. >> reporter: and onboard the lifeboat, then all hell broke loose. >> then the shots. >> reporter: when "rescue on the high seas" continues. world, people.
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easter sunday, april 12th, 2009. captain richard phillips had been held at gun point in the lifeboat for four days. the pirates had gotten within 30 miles of somalia. then, almost out of fuel, they cut the engines. his hands bound tightly, captain phillips lashed out at his captors. >> i basically told them, you're never going to make it out of here. they are never going to pay a ransom. we're all going to die in this boat. >> reporter: seated inside the lifeboat, he had no idea that the team of navy s.e.a.l.s. was watching from positions on the
stern of the "bainbridge." if worst came to worst, the snipers had a shot at the bobbing craft. >> from 1,000 yards they could probably tell you, which shoulder you want? left or right shoulder? that's how accurate they are. >> reporter: as the tense standoff wore on, the navy checked on captain phillips. a small zodiac comes from the "bainbridge." they bring food and a bottle of a-1 steak sauce. later you realize there was a message on that bottle of a-1 steak sauce. do you remember what it said? >> well, i was told later. i couldn't see it because my glasses were gone from diving. something to the extent of, hang on, we're coming, sir. >> reporter: each time a craft stopped by for what's called a proof of life check, the navy gathered more information about the layout of the lifeboat. >> that was one of the questions they asked me. where do you sit? i said, right here. >> reporter: they wanted to know exactly where you'd be. >> exactly where i was, yep. >> reporter: late sunday afternoon negotiations allowed
the pirate's leader on to the "bainbridge" for medical attention. he had gotten minor wounds when he was grabbed by the crew on the "maersk alabama." then on the lifeboat the remaining pirates on the lifeboat allowed the navy to tow their vessel. that brought them much closer to the s.e.a.l.s. lying in wait on the "bainbridge." a much easier target. as evening approached off somalia, in vermont it was easter morning. >> it started to snow. just seeing that snow come down just kind of hit me like, oh, my god, he's going to be okay. i still can't even talk about it. that was probably the first time i really cried. and i was like, he's going to be fine. >> reporter: but her husband didn't think that way. with a tether attached to the lifeboat, he was at the end of his own rope. so here we are 96 hours into this ordeal. unbelievable conditions.
here you jump up, you say, i'm out of here. i don't care what you do. i'm getting off this boat. there's a scuffle and one of the pirates fires his weapon. >> it shows you they really don't care about anybody else but themselves. >> reporter: that gunshot was the beginning of the end. after the shot rang out, there was a voice from outside. >> i heard, what's going on in there? what's the problem? >> reporter: because the navy, the personnel, were close to the lifeboat. they were there. >> right. it was a voice i hadn't heard. four days, i know the same voices i'm listening to. >> reporter: on the "bainbridge," there was an instant determination. the captain's life was in dire jeopardy. >> the commanding officer of the ship had the authority and the rules of engagement that if his life is in jeopardy to take out the pirates, take them out. >> reporter: on the lifeboat, tempers flared as two of the pirates turned on the one who fired the gun. these were the final seconds. >> the pirates are yelling, why did you do that for? why did you do that?
i'm on all fours seeing their heads go up through the hatch. they're yelling, okay, okay, no problem, no problem. okay, okay. you know, to reassure. >> reporter: that you were okay? >> yeah, yep. >> reporter: time stood still. the light was fading. the s.e.a.l. team snipers attached night vision scopes to their high-powered rifles, but this was no easy shot. the lifeboat pitched in the sea. one slip by a fraction of an inch could kill the captain. as the two pirates raised their heads from the front of the lifeboat, the third could be seen in the window at top. there was no room for error. and then all hell broke loose. >> then the shots. >> reporter: the navy s.e.a.l.s. fired at least three shots. the captain thought the pirates were shooting each other. >> i'm going, what the hell are you guys doing? what are you doing? >> reporter: this is extraordinary. you're hearing these gunshots
and thinking, you know what, the pirates have turned on each other. >> yep. >> reporter: after all this time, they are now shooting each other. >> after the shots, i sort of picked my head up and right behind me is the young pirate who's taken his last gasp on the deck. and the next thing i hear is, "are you okay?" >> reporter: it was a navy s.e.a.l. dropping down to the lifeboat to rescue him. all three of the pirates on the lifeboat were dead. the alleged leader was in custody on the "bainbridge." finally, captain richard phillips was free. >> thanks, guys. >> partly because he showed such calm and, i think, handled himself with such exemplary heroism and partly because we just had an incredible team out in the region that was able to execute what was a very difficult operation. >> reporter: but andrea phillips didn't find out until everyone else. she learned of the rescue while watching tv. >> i think they basically kind
of forgot to call to tell us that he had been saved. >> reporter: when i first met them last spring, captain richard phillips was hailed as a national hero, a man who didn't give in to pirates. the captain hit the lecture circuit, but now several "maersk alabama" crew members say the captain is no hero to them. in the months following your rescue, several crew members have criticized you personally and publicly. they say you put them and the ship in harm's way by not going farther off the somali coast. how do you respond to that? >> it wasn't until december this came up. it is a legal concern, so there is not much i can say. i will say we are always in those areas. >> reporter: did you heed the warnings closely enough? >> i believe i did. >> reporter: you don't feel you had any choice to go a different way? >> i could go a different way. i don't think it mattered where we were. you could be a thousand miles out and ships have still been taken. >> reporter: in a lawsuit,
several crew members claim the "maersk alabama's" owner and crew management company were negligent sending the ship into danger without more security. those crew members declined "dateline's" request for an interview. the ship's owner maersk line limited and the crew management company declined comment on the lawsuit. chief mate shane murphy, who is not suing, says one thing is for sure -- that the other crew members did not get enough praise for their actions. >> just seeing how it was portrayed as the hero captain and the hero captain, so you can see it's very frustrating for these guys. >> reporter: in his new book, captain phillips praises the crew members' actions, and most of all, his rescuers, the navy s.e.a.l.s. >> that was one of the reasons i wrote the book "a captain's duty," was to give them credit. lord knows they don't get enough credit for what they do day in and day out. >> reporter: even now i look at you and i realize there's an
enormous amount of emotion. how much time did you spend over those 96 hours thinking of your family on that boat? >> the most telling thing to me, even now i can feel it welling up, is my son. one of the last things he said to me -- we have a way of bantering back and forth -- was, oh, i don't have a dad, he's always at sea. he's never home. and so i was thinking -- even now it still affects me. this is really the one thing that affects me. that was my will to live, is i had to get back to him. >> reporter: prove him wrong. >> prove him wrong, yep. >> reporter: captain phillips says he is looking forward to going back to sea a little later on this year. in the meantime, the somali man accused of being the pirate leader has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in new york. for more